intrigued, charmed, bored

I've never really had an interest in reading Eat, Pray, Love. Aside from the time my friend was reading it outside in a park and somehow its very zenny presence drew a hot firefighter to her. Seriously. Although likely because my friend is awesome, not because of what she was reading.... Nonetheless, no real interest in the story. But apparently there's a happy ending to be read out there. And somehow that appeals to me.

Also of note, did you read this story in Sunday's Journal? I know the charming tale of what oddities can be found in used books is, perhaps, the kind of story only a book nerd would like. But you're here, so you're exactly the kind of book nerd who will understand just how those quirky finds might reflect on real humanity.

Now, for something of a book review.... I think I've told you before about Beginner's Greek, a romance novel written by James Collins.

To be frank, it's a bit much. Basic story: Peter, like many of us, gets on airplanes and hopes to find himself sitting beside the love of his life. Like many of us, when the potential love-of-his-life does sit beside him, he's frozen. Impotent. Unable to follow through.
And that, really, is the best possible description of everything about Peter. The man is incapable of putting anything to action. He gets mad, he's frozen. Hurt, frozen. In love, frozen.
In fact, all the tragedy that follows from Peter and Holly's first meeting on the plane -- he loses her number, when he finds her again he is incapable of doing anything to be with her, etc. -- is a result of his total and complete impotence.
The book gets to be a pain in the ass, frankly. It's 441 pages with way too many characters, twisty stupid story lines, words you have to look up in the dictionary (and not in a good way that makes the story better, but in a pretentious tiresome way) and... blerg. I just didn't like it.
And I was offended by the Library Journal's review, "Jane Austen fans will feel right at home."
Sure. They will feel right at home. If they just finished reading Mansfield Park and wanted to irritated by the male version of Fanny Price.
(Question: If I really dislike the book, might I like the movie? For one, it'll be put on screen by the guys who wrote (500) Days of Summer. And I really, really loved that film.)


hint: this level of neediness might be a bad omen

My Mistress and my Friend:
My heart and I surrender themselves into your hands, and we supplicate to be commended to your good graces, and that by absence your affections may not be diminished to us, for that would be to augment our pain, which would be a great pity, since absence gives enough, and more than I ever thought could be felt. This brings to my mind a fact in astronomy, which is, that the further the poles are from the sun, notwithstanding, the more scorching is the heat. Thus is it with our love; absence has placed distance between us, nevertheless fervor increases -- at least on my part. I hope the same from you, assuring you that in my case the anguish of absence is so great that it would be intolerable were it not for the firm hope I have of your indissoluble affection towards me. In order to remind you of it, and because I cannot in person be in your presence, I send you the thing which comes nearest that is possible, that is to say, my picture, and the whole device, which you already know of, set in bracelets, wishing myself in their place when it pleases you....

Watch out, Anne. Watch out. This guy may be a bit too into you.

Facebook alert

My friends -- and, I suppose, friends of friends, etc. -- have begun a chain letter-esque "15 books" list.

The point is to list 15 books that your mind wanders back to again and again. Not necessarily the best books you've ever read, or your favourite books of all time. Just the ones that immediately come to mind, that perhaps you talk about a lot, the ones that have nested so far in your head they are part of who you are.

Briefly, my friend TSS's list begins with these five:

No Country For Old Men
The English Patient
What Is The What
Go Jump In The Pool

While my friend R's list starts:

The Sword of Shannara
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
The English Patient
Infinite Jest (Also, Consider the Lobster and A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again)
Granta 33: What Went Wrong?

And here is my complete list with -- bonus! -- explanations:

At the end of the day, I have to say Austen's last novel is my favourite. Yes, the plight of Anne Elliot -- she of disappeared bloom and waiting around for Capt. Wentworth -- can read a little slow. And Austen goes into overdrive to wrap it all up in happily ever after. But under all that, under the boy-meets-girl, away from the fairy tale, lies layers of character development and painful, cringe-worthy, gut-wrenching human interaction.

Cat's Eye
Speaking of gut-wrenching. Teen and pre-teen girl drama haunt a woman's whole life in this Atwood classic.

Message from Nam
Yes. This was written by Danielle Steele. This is where we judge me freely for liking a Danielle Steele novel. But my defense? I was about 12 when I read this. And when you're a 12-year-old girl who dreams of becoming a reporter, the story of a war correspondent in Vietnam is something like a super hero comic book.

Fighting for Canada
This Diane Francis book about Quebec's separation movement was probably the first piece of non-fiction I read without a teacher breathing down my neck. I was fascinated by all things related to the 1995 referendum for years -- including all the newspapers my dad sent me from Montreal, English and French -- and as far as I'm concerned this book pushed me in the direction of political reporting years down the road.

The Vagina Monologues
Cunt! That's right. I said it. Out loud. Kind of. Eve Ensler's collection is a must-read for empowered women everywhere.

Bitter Chocolate
I successfully gave up chocolate for a year thanks to this Carol Off investigation.

Late Nights on Air
How awesome is Elizabeth Hay? In this book, she actually captures Yellowknife and puts it on the page for everyone in the world to enjoy. Granted, I have only ever been in Yellowknife for about five days altogether. So maybe I'm not the best expert. But when I was there, I couldn't stop thinking about the world Hay created.

Gone With The Wind
"Fiddle dee-dee. Tomorrow is another day." Actually a thing I say, more than a decade after discovering an author can have enough guts not to give her hero and heroine a happy ending.

The Queen's Fool
Philippa Gregory + history of the United Kingdom + romance = Unforgettable.

Tom Jones
Fact: Henry Fielding is the only man to sneak onto this list. Also, his is one of the first English novels that looks like the kind of novel you'd read today. Tom Jones is the perfect haphazard, accidental lady's man. He's a 17th century hero, yes. But you know who else he might be? Rob Lowe in St. Elmo's Fire. Bret in Flight of the Conchords. Matthew McConnaughey in everything.

Pride and Prejudice
Wanted: Mr. Darcy. Nuff said.

The Diary of Anne Frank
The ultimate proof, I think, that the mundane details are what pull you into a book. So, I was 10 years old, and here was this girl who talked about boys and crushes. And then, this girl I totally got was in the middle of a tragedy I could barely wrap my head around. To this day.

Anne of Green Gables
I learned about Tennyson -- my favourite author -- from this book. When Anne floats down the river in a boat? And nearly dies? Classic.

Rilla of Ingleside
This is L.M. Montgomery's ode to Canada, to pacifism, to Harlequin-esque romance.

Summer Sisters
Ok, this is weird. But every sex scene in this Judy Blume book -- for adults, obviously -- is super memorable. I know, it's weird. But it sticks with you. Read the book, and you'll find yourself thinking about how one might lay down towels in a hotel bathtub. Or best ways to do it in the front seat of a truck.

What I missed.... The Bell Jar. The Diviners. The Wars. The Piano Man's Daughter. (Ha! Two Timothy Findley books! I do like male authors!)


two totally different tales, connected by nothing more than sand and camels

It's 6 a.m. I can't sleep. Stupid jet lag.

Anyway, books! Lovely beach friends.... I can't say enough nice things about Jennifer Weiner's latest novel. But I can say one nasty thing.

The title really sucks, no?

Yes, in fairness, Best Friends Forever conjures memories of a good Judy Blume book, and in mimicking Blume's story-telling style -- title aside -- Weiner's struck gold again. But more gold than usual.

Her key characters, Val and Addie -- best friends who didn't grow apart so much as fell into a void -- are so well drawn. But so is every character in this story, a novel I would describe as Weiner's best so far.

We have the girls' parents -- the mousy mom, the PTSD dad, the house-wrecking party mom, the absentee dad -- shaded in through Addie's memories. We have Addie's brother, whose life undergoes massive change with tragedy, but whose love for Addie merely morphs. We have a villain forced to repent, changing the very idea of what a villain might be and whether a person who is bad at 17 is still bad at 32. We have loneliness as a character, an ever-changing enemy and friend.

And we have Jordan Novick.

Throughout the book, Weiner departs periodically from the first-person narrative style in order to set foot inside the love interest's thoughts and feelings. And, unlike most men in chick lit -- barring Nick Hornby's, of course -- Jordan has thoughts! And weaknesses! A heart-breaking history of his own!

Sorry. I don't mean to sound so gleeful about heartbreak. In fact, I read this book in one day and found tears literally welling in my eyes at points. But let's be honest. In most romantic-murder mystery-coming of age novels, only one character -- and maybe a sidekick -- get to have dark pasts or deep neuroses. Unless, of course, the love interest has some sort of mentioned-in-passing issue the hero/heroine can sort out quickly by merely existing and probably making out.

In all her characters, Weiner digs a little deeper. What might drive one to drink too much? To eat too much? To flirt too much? To stop working?

And how far should one go to change his or her life?

It's on this note that I am going to -- quite bizarrely -- start talking about Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger.
I know. These books have no real connection, other than that I read both on a beach in Tunisia.
Where changing one's life is merely one of the themes Weiner grapples with, I might argue it is the sole stomping ground of Adiga's morally-stretched, "half-baked" Balram (Munna) Halwai.
Early in this tale, we are keenly aware of all that Balram's father wants for him -- escape from the "Darkness" of a small Indian village, a better life than service to the rich. "My whole life, I have been treated like a donkey," he tells his son. "All I want is that one son of mine -- at least one -- should live like a man." (p. 30)
What, perhaps, is supposed to set Balram apart from those around him is his cunning, his calculation. This is not, after all, the tale of some nice little Victorian servant who somehow gets his due.
Rather, this is a tale of violence, revenge, and greed in an angry world. If Balram disobeys the laws of the land, he does so no more than any and all around him....
I don't want to get into the nitty gritty of this one. It's on the agenda for our next book club, and really, I wouldn't want to rob anyone of the opportunity to be surprised by Adiga's narrative twists and turns.
On a side note, this was Adiga's first published book. A brilliant work set loose upon the world when he was 34 (yes, I am jealous), that won the Booker and is told in a long and unwieldy letter format. Except, of course, that even at its most unwieldy and off-topic, the story is being told for a reason, driving at a point or detail the reader needs to know to understand the whole picture.
And, of course, one can't help but wonder whether Balram's story is supposed to be India's story. And whether there is such a thing as a happy ending.
"I won't be saying anything new if I say that the history of the world is the history of a ten-thousand-year war of brains between the rich and the poor. Each side is eternally trying to hoodwink the other side: and it has been this way since the start of time. The poor win a few battles.... but of course the rich have won the war for ten thousand years." (p. 254)